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Fit for purpose? Planning and food production in the peri-urban space

Devereux, Michael; Sheppard, Adam

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Michael Devereux
Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning in Architecture and Urbanism


A recent British Council project highlighted the important role that local food production can play in addressing climate change. But is our planning system capable supporting strategies to encourage small scale and community food production, especially in the potentially productive peri-urban fringes of our towns and cities?

‘Transition Towns’ such as Totnes, Marsden and Slaithwaite have been at the forefront of a movement, now joined by bigger cities such as Hull, that highlights sustainable living and local food production. These modern pioneers of local food production have to operate within the confines of a planning system set up in 1947 and which at that time had mass food production and protection of the countryside as guiding principles. Its policy and regulatory framework may not therefore be best suited to present demands.

The legal and policy context of peri-urban space, especially with its designations of green belt and settlement boundaries, is designed to restrict development, with very few exceptions to this rule being allowed. Yet it is this very space that offers significant potential for aspiring communities to produce food locally. Whilst the planning system might support the broad move towards local production of food and other goods there is an in-built complexity in policy and law that might slow or even halt the efforts of Transition Towns and others in their drive towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

The planning system that emerged at the end of World War II did a number of important things in and around the question of food production. First, it exempted itself from having to deal with ‘agriculture’. The definition it used to define ‘agriculture’ is quite specific and this has impacted on the degree of freedom from the planning system that can be exercised. Issues such as intensification, ancillary activities, food processing and ‘farm’ shops further increase the complexity of interpreting the law at this level. The second impact of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act is that it adopted a zoning approach that placed land either ‘in’ or ‘out’ of a particular classification. The result was a rigid urban-rural demarcation that saw development being constrained to one side only. This now poses serious questions about the nature and form of any ‘development’ that might take place in support of local food production on the rural side of this boundary.

Our paper explores the nature of planning and agriculture in the peri-urban space and reflects upon the development of law and policy in this area since 1947. We set these against today’s requirements for local food production and we find that the system as set out just after World War II has become over complex through piecemeal interpretation and incremental policy initiatives. In short it is not fit the purpose of local food production. If local food production is, a priori, a good cause, then to be able to respond effectively and helpfully to its requirements the planning profession needs to rethink some of the principles that lay behind decisions made in 1947 and decide to what extent and how best this good cause can be accommodated whilst balancing other competing demands on land at the edge of towns and cities.


Devereux, M., & Sheppard, A. (2012, April). Fit for purpose? Planning and food production in the peri-urban space. Paper presented at UK - Ireland Planning Research Conference, Brighton, UK

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name UK - Ireland Planning Research Conference
Conference Location Brighton, UK
Start Date Apr 11, 2012
End Date Apr 13, 2012
Publicly Available Date Jun 8, 2019
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords planning, peri urban, periphery, planning law
Public URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : UK - Ireland Planning Research Conference


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